The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel

This Welsh ‘cafe town’ is just my cup of tea

Often bypassed en route to the Brecon Beacons, historic Monmouth is perfect for an early summer getaway, says Annabelle Thorpe


It is Saturday evening in the quiet Welsh town of Monmouth, and I am tucking into a particular­ly fine massaman curry, rich with coconut and crammed with prawns, at the Whole Earth Thai Bistro (01600 715555). By day it is a cafe but in the evenings, from Thursday through to Saturday, Prae and her team cook up fragrant tom yum soup, zingy stir-fries and curries, with a BYOB policy that guarantees diners an affordable night out even in these straitened times.

Tucked away in a small courtyard, the restaurant is the perfect metaphor for the town itself; somewhere easy to drive straight past, without realising you are missing an absolute treasure.

To be honest, Monmouth isn’t somewhere I would have thought to visit had my sister not moved to the area 20 years ago. Since then, I have come to love my regular escapes to the Welsh hills, where the Offa’s Dyke Path and the Wye Valley Walk are right on the doorstep, the countrysid­e is dotted with refreshing­ly unpretenti­ous pubs and the High Street remains a place to potter, browse and pick up slabs of cake or freshly made pasties, for fuel before or after a bracing walk.

Situated right on the border with England, at the convergenc­e of the Wye and Monnow rivers, Monmouth was first settled in Roman times. By the 18th century it was a bustling county town with pleasure grounds spread across fields that still roll out from the remains of the 13th-century walls. This affluent era gave the town one of my favourite picnic spots; the Kymin (nationaltr­ – a small tower, set on the 800ft-high summit of a nearby hill. Originally built as a banqueting tower for a group of local gentlemen who decided they needed somewhere a little more genteel than a field for their weekly picnic club, it is a great place to orientate yourself. There are astonishin­g views over the town to the looming Black Mountains beyond, and – on a clear day – to the great grey wave of Hay Bluff.

You can walk to the Kymin from the centre of town (around seven miles as a circular route, with a very stiff ascent) but happily there is also a road up and a car park near the top – while the wide banks of the River Wye offer plenty of flatter routes for less hardcore hikers.

I often leave the car in the village of Symonds Yat East and walk along the riverbank to Biblins Bridge, the wire mesh constructi­on that offers the possibilit­y of a circular walk (and the chance to pretend you are in I’m a Celebrity... if the desire takes you). More beautiful still is the walk along the Wye from the village of Redbrook, crossing over for a drink in the tiered garden at the Boat pub (theboatpen­

The river offers far more than a tranquil place to walk, however. An activity centre in itself, the Wye is most famous for its salmon fishing, but is also a much-loved playground for rowers, paddleboar­ders, kayakers and wild swimmers. If I am feeling lazy, I settle in at the terrace of the Saracens Head pub in Symonds Yat East (01600 890435; saracenshe­ and watch the watersport­s enthusiast­s splash and wobble past; on more active weekends, I head to Symonds Yat West to join them, hiring a canoe from the Monmouth Canoe & Activity Centre (01600 716083; monmouthca­ and taking a couple of leisurely hours to paddle down river, ending up by the boathouse in the centre of town.

One of my favourite walks of all is a stroll up the town’s charming High Street; from the 13th-century Monnow Bridge – the only fortified river bridge left in the UK – to the 18th-century Shire Hall and the cobbles of Church Street beyond. As on many high streets, a number of the shops are empty but there is none of the down-at-heel scruffines­s that often characteri­ses post-pandemic town centres. In part, this is due to a forward-thinking move by the local council which, in the summer of 2020, implemente­d a plan to make Monmouth a “Cafe Town”, with coffee shops encouraged and the wide high street redesigned to create al fresco seating areas alongside the pavements.

Although the plan wasn’t met with town-wide approval, it has resulted in a High Street that has retained a pleasing bustle. On my most recent visit, on a sunny Monday, I grabbed the last table outside Coffee#1 (, while on the opposite side of the road Coffi Lab ( – a local mini-chain of dog-friendly coffee shops – was doing a roaring trade.

On my stroll around town I counted no fewer than nine cafes, scattered in between the boutiques, bookshops, cheese-stacked deli and antiques emporiums, alongside a handful of familiar high street names.

Of course, the best thing about all the outdoor activity here – aside from the joy of being immersed in such richly beautiful landscapes – is that it enables you to work up an appetite for Monmouth’s rich local produce. A local Trealy Farm charcuteri­e platter at the 17th-century Ostrich Inn in Newland (01594 833260; theostrich­ is the perfect postwalk reward. The hot ticket in the nearby village of Pennalt is the gargantuan burger pile-ups at the Pig and Apple (07868 138286, thepiganda­pplemonmou­ – although this needs to be an end-of-day treat, with opening hours from 4.30pm-10pm, Thursday to Saturday.

In a way, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Monmouth keeps its charms dialled down low. This is a town where, for 60 years, some of music’s biggest stars – from David Bowie and Queen to Coldplay and Oasis – have come to record albums at Rockfield Studios, a set of converted farm buildings a mile out of town. There is no heritage sign to indicate you are passing one of British music’s most iconic sites; no visitor centre or exhibition space. Instead, it flies happily under the radar, just like Monmouth itself.

Stay at Creates – a friendly bistro in the heart of the town with eight en-suite rooms, from £75, B&B (01600 460492; createsmon­

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 ?? ?? Take your pick: explore the shops and restaurant­s on Church Street in Monmouth’s town centre giDine out: the Kymin, a small tower on a hilltop, makes a great spot for a family picnic
Take your pick: explore the shops and restaurant­s on Church Street in Monmouth’s town centre giDine out: the Kymin, a small tower on a hilltop, makes a great spot for a family picnic
 ?? ?? iStride out across Biblins Bridge, a wire mesh constructi­on straddling the River Wye
iStride out across Biblins Bridge, a wire mesh constructi­on straddling the River Wye

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